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a blog by Chris Barrow

Day 1 of the Asto Clinic "Everest challenge"

Wednesday 8th May 2024

My first full day in France begins at 04:30, to the sound of the cockerel next door greeting the dawn.

I do manage to fall back asleep for a couple of hours, and then open my verandah doors to see the sun illuminating the medieval village of Tourrettes-sur-Loup on the hill above us.

At this stage, I don’t realise that this whole mountainous area is dotted with similar outposts, perched on hillside and cliff edges - and that my travels each day are going to be full of “oohs” and "aahs” as we round bends which bring another breathtaking village into view.

Before our travels begin in earnest, we need a trip into the nearby town of Vence, stopping just outside the town to visit a small Carrefour Contact - it’s the equivalent of a Tesco Express but with a meat and cheese counter that would look good in Harrods.

There we stock up with supplies, including marinated beef kebabs that promise a good evening ahead.

Back then to Chez Turnock for coffee and pain au chocolate on the patio, chatting about the day ahead and then getting ourselves prepared.

We eventually depart around 11:00, much later than is likely the rest of this week, and climb the hill to the village square in Tourrettes-sur-Loup, where it’s market day, then carrying on towards the west.

What follows I can only explain by repeating a conversation I had with myself as I followed Steve on a long downhill into Pont du Loup, "I'm so glad I have lived to see this beautiful scenery".

Soon after, Steve pulls over and points towards the heavens.

There, high on a rocky outcrop, seemingly hundreds of feet above us, is yet another crow’s nest of beige properties with terra cotta roofs - the village of Gourdon.

“We are going up there”, he explains and captures on video my astonished reaction.

It’s a right turn to begin what will be out first major climb of the day, and when we arrived at the top some time later, I know I’ve done it.

Stops along the way to marvel at the awesome waterfalls of Cascades du Saut du Loup.

In Gourdon we mingle with tourists, come to see the fabulous views towards the Mediterranean and wander around the square reputedly visited by Queen Victoria.

A break to share a cheese and ham panini and smoothies, as we sit on a step and people-watch for a while.

Then back on our travels and another stiff climb to bag my first ever summit - the Col de l'Ecre - a pause for photos and high-fives, then on with our day.

From there to the Col de la Sine, then to Col du Castellaras. I'm quickly learning that what goes down must come up again and vice versa.

The mountain passes and summits are joined by a plateau that feels like a lost world set amidst the mountains, made more so by passing a nature reserve in which bison roam amongst deer and visitors are ridden around in horse-drawn carriages to see the wildlife.

If a Diplodocus came lumbering through the valley, it wouldn’t look out of place.

The final part of our day is another first for me - a 25-minute fast descent back through Gréolières and down into the Gorges du Loup. I’m holding on tight and gradually losing all the feeling in my fingers as we wind around hair-pin bends at 45 kph, through rock arches that featured in the opening sequences of one of the Pierce Brosnan Bond movies, and with huge drops off the side of our balcony runs.

It has been cold on the mountain passes and as we descend back into the gorges, I’m glad I brought my gillet as the wind (and a very brief touch of rain at one stage) whip the heat out of our bodies.

Our day ends with a long and gradual climb back to Tourrettes-sur-Loup - where (I’m not going to lie) we stop for the most wonderful Kronenbourg lager at a village bar, chat about our day and people watch as the village comes out to enjoy the evening.

Day one complete and after a delightfully hot shower it’s time to enjoy those kebabs with grilled vegetables and a wonderful bottle of red.

My target is to complete a minimum of 5,000 feet every day - today was 88 km, 4 hours 41 minutes in the saddle and 5,217 feet.

I’m tired but feel in remarkably good shape - and I’ll probably say this more than once, that I’m indebted to Steve Turnock for his guidance, hugely helpful tips on technique for both climbing and descending, the loan of a bike that fits like a glove (a Colnago CLX with my own saddle fitted) and the use of his beautiful home out here.

My thanks also to you - whilst I’m having the trip of a lifetime, I don’t want to forget for a moment that we are here to support Asto Clinics and that every £1,000 we raise will approximately cover the costs of treatment for one patient who reaches out for help to deal with their debilitating condition of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Including Gift Aid we have £3,946 so far.

To illustrate the difference you are making, each day I’m going to share with you (with permissions) a single story about the difference that Asto have made:

Anonymous - May 2024

“Where do I start? As cliché as it sounds, Asto changed my life, and gave me back my peace of mind.

After serving as a Police officer for several years I was diagnosed with PTSD 14 years ago. I had various therapies including talking therapy and EMDR which provided periods of light relief in between living my life day to day in fear of death. I had physical symptoms of anxiety daily, my sleep was interrupted and I was haunted by intrusive thoughts of death, both my own and those of my loved ones. At one point I was so bad, I had to give up my home, move back to my parents and give up driving. Every time I got behind the wheel of a car I would see dead bodies in the road. I lost all of my confidence and despite having an amazing family and friends sunk in to a state of depression and anxiety which would go on to last for over a decade.

I joined the major crime unit in the Police in 2022 and had a massive relapse shortly after. I had a meltdown at work and was referred to the occupational health department. Again I was diagnosed and treated for PTSD. In December 2023 I was finally referred to the Police Consultant Psychologist who after speaking to me for 10 minutes told me he thought I had OCD. I was shocked and in disbelief, as knew I had an obsessive nature, but due to not having any physical compulsions such as washing hands etc, I didn't think it was something that affected me. This individual gave me the name of Asto, and that was when my recovery began.

I contacted Asto somewhat reluctantly as I didn't have any confidence in the diagnosis of OCD, but I was so desperate I was prepared to try anything. After liaising with Sue, I was sent a couple of assessment tasks to complete and then I had an online chat with Costas. I remember that day sat in my car in a hotel car park and crying wondering if my life would ever get better. I had everything, a loving partner, amazing parents and a beautiful son and yet I felt so scared, depressed and alone.

After speaking with Costas, he too said he believed I had OCD, and a few weeks later I started the programme.

Week by week I learnt the theory behind the condition in our Tuesday sessions, as well as reading the book "Overcoming OCD", and doing my homework. I felt lighter within a matter of weeks, and knew by week 7 I was getting better. Everything just made sense and I was able to put the recovery techniques in to practice. When I had my final assessment with Costas he said I had gone from having moderate to severe OCD symptoms to symptoms that were negligible.

I still fear death to a degree but I am now living my life for the first time in years. I have resigned from the Police force and have the courage to embrace the next chapter of my life. I am happier and finally feel virtually free of the black cloud that had plagued my life for so long.

I can never repay Asto, Sue, Costas and Karen, for the help and support they have given me. I never believed that anything would make me better and here I am virtually symptom free. Thank you so much for giving me my life back.

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